Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Irish Red Cross
Question 19: To ask the Minister for Defence the progress that has been made in reforming the Irish Red Cross; the contact he continues to have with the IRC officials in relation to governance changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47413/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 22 together.
Proposals for reform of the governance of the Irish Red Cross Society arise from a resolution passed in November 2007 by the council of delegates of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, IFRC, which urged all national societies to examine and update their statutes and related legal texts by 2010.
A working group to propose changes in governance, including those recommended by the international federation, was established by the Irish Red Cross Society in 2008. To implement the recommendations made in the working group's report, significant amendments to the society's existing legislation, including the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939, will be required. Representatives of the society and officials from the Department of Defence have had several meetings this year to discuss the specific changes required. A draft amendment order, which would substantially amend the 1939 order, has been drawn up and was recently referred to the Office of the Attorney General.
The proposed changes address issues relating to higher level areas of corporate governance such as organisational structures, electoral arrangements and membership. I outlined the main areas for consideration to the House during an Adjournment debate on 24 November 2010. As recently as last week, further proposals were received by the Department of Defence from the Irish Red Cross Society. These further proposals are being examined. Further discussions with the society and the Office of the Attorney General on the draft amendment order will take place shortly.
When the consultative process has been concluded, I propose to present the amendments to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women's Rights for its consideration prior to seeking the Government's approval to change the legislation.
Apart from the legislative changes that are being progressed, a new chairman, Mr. David J. O'Callaghan, was recently appointed by the President. Mr. O'Callaghan is a former Secretary General of the Department of Defence and has vast experience of public administration at senior management level. Since his appointment in September 2010, he has put improved governance of the society's affairs at the top of his agenda. The society has already implemented procedures to avoid a recurrence of the events that led to the recently completed investigation into the delay by the Tipperary branch of the society in forwarding funds raised during the Asian tsunami appeal from its branch account to headquarters. The society is well advanced in introducing strengthened new financial procedures. The recommendations made in the report of the investigation into the Tipperary bank account will also be implemented as a matter of urgency. I am confident the new Chairman will expedite the reform process in the society which also involves the drafting of a new constitution.
As part of the ongoing process of change that is being advanced in the Irish Red Cross, the new chairman and the acting secretary general met with senior officials of the international federation in Geneva last week to apprise them of the proposed legislative changes. The international federation has indicated it would welcome an opportunity to contribute to the final stages of the proposed legislative changes and I am happy to facilitate it in this regard.
The Minister referred to the internal report he commissioned on the Irish Red Cross. Will he agree this controversy arose because of the issue of unreported bank accounts? What are the Minister's views on the change from an external independent investigation to an internal one? Why were the former chairman, Mr. David Andrews, the former secretary general, Ms Carmel Dunne, and the whistleblower, Mr. Noel Wardick, not interviewed as part of this investigation? Has the Minister proposals to bring to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women's Rights regarding changes to the society's governance? Will he be in a position to bring these proposals to the committee in the near future, so that they can be discussed?
As regards whether an internal or external review might have been better, the judgment was made by the new chairman that an internal report would be quicker and cheaper. I have seen the report and I do not believe anybody could argue with its findings. It seems to be comprehensive from my point of view and proposes some changes. When I bring the draft governance issue to the committee, Opposition Members and others may well have views to bring forward at that stage concerning additional governance issues that may not have been addressed in the 2009 report, which I mentioned in the initial answer. I have no idea why some people were interviewed and others were not. Having seen the comprehensive nature of the report, I do not know whether additional people would have had something to add.
My intention was to bring the proposed changes to the committee around this time, but the two matters I mentioned in my initial response have delayed that. The international committee has indicated that it has some input and only last week we received some additional proposals from the Irish Red Cross. I would like to do a comprehensive job taking account of all the views. I would like to have all that information when I next come before the committee, which I would like to do in January.
On the face of it, it seems that progress has been made since the last occasion we had oral Defence questions. Are the further proposals that have come in from the Irish Red Cross substantial? For instance, do they deal with the issue of the length of time during which somebody can operate as a member of the executive board? Why does the international organisation wish to have an input into the final proposals? This did not seem to be the position over the last few months, as they had approved the proposals that were sent last year. There have been changes in that respect but what is the nature of the changes proposed by the Irish Red Cross? Why does the international committee want to have a hand in what happens at this stage?
Yes, the most recent one on the accounts, which found many more accounts than the Tipperary bank account, as it transpired. It also has something to say about systems. My recollection is that the initial review, which was conducted by the Red Cross under Professor Roger Downer, recommended a limit on the number of terms - I think it might be two - somebody could serve on the executive committee. I will have to check that for the Deputy but I am pretty sure it is the case. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been asked for recommendations and has indicated that it will be sending in some. I do not know the nature of the recommendations at this point but I understand that the general thrust will be along the lines we have previously discussed, of extending the independence of the Red Cross Society from Government.
I wish to revert to the interview process and those who were not interviewed. Is it not strange that the secretary-general of the Red Cross up to mid-2007 was not interviewed, and neither was the chairman at the time, nor the whistle-blower? This was all about the internal review into the accounts, which the Minister mentioned. Can the Minister find out why they were not interviewed? It seems inexplicable that they were not. Has the Minister a sense of urgency with regard to the required changes? This is the third time we have asked questions about this matter, yet we have seen no proposals from the Minister and no reports to the committee. When will we see some action on this? The report said the matter was urgent and had to be addressed soon. It also said the practices and procedures were unacceptable. Surely the Minister has some plan or timescale to take action.
The Deputy has raised three separate points. The internal review has been published and is publicly available for anybody with an interest in the issue. People may well have views on it. I have access to it because it has been published and was made available to the Department and everyone else. It has come up with some important findings and there are two levels at which action can be taken. The first level is internal and I understand that a number of measures have been put in place by the chairman. Those can be done internally without any changes to the statute or regulation. It seems inevitable to me that, arising from the findings of that report, some changes will have to be considered and will probably have to be implemented when the legislative review is under way. This may well result in the entire legislation being revisited, rather than secondary legislation. Both may be considered but that is not yet clear.
The Deputy will appreciate that there is no requirement for any Minister to bring an issue of this nature to the committee. I am doing so as a courtesy to the House and because I believe that secondary legislation in many instances has an importance that, at a minimum, should see it being placed before a committee. That is the reason I am doing it, although of course I am not required to do so. I hope people will have an input at that stage, however.
With regard to the timescale, I have said previously that this is an opportunity to get this right, particularly if it is the case that primary legislation will have to be revisited. A few extra weeks will be important in order to assimilate the views of all the related stages.
During a recent Adjournment Debate, the Minister indicated that he had sought clarification from the Attorney General's office as to what exactly his powers are vis-À-vis the Red Cross. Has the Minister received that clarification and, if so, does it in any way enhance his powers to investigate aspects of the internal workings of the Irish Red Cross? Heretofore, the Minister has taken the position that he cannot become involved in the day-to-day management of the society.
With regard to the issue of independence, does the Minister intend to cast free the Irish Red Cross in the context of the present relationship it has with the Government? He has indicated some favour in that direction previously, which is a good idea.
I do not wish to open the issue of a member of staff who was dismissed and whose case has been the subject of an appeal hearing. Is there any indication, however, when the internal process in the Irish Red Cross will be concluded in regard to that case?
The interaction with the Attorney General's office continues and has been helpful. Naturally, when new issues have arisen from the views of the International Red Cross and also from this internal report, the interaction with the Attorney General must continue and be revisited. Having considered all that, perhaps the most important question will be whether primary legislation is required in this instance. Even if it is, I would choose to go to the committee with secondary legislation as early as possible. I hope to do so in January.
The likely outcome is that the independence of the Red Cross will be established beyond any question. I understand that the emphasis from the international body will be in that direction.
As regards the staff member mentioned, that matter is still under appeal so I do not think it would be helpful for the House to intervene during that process.